But even more - we are reminded that we have a commission to fulfil before the Lord's return, a commission in which we are to be engaged faithfully and diligently all the time - we know not when the Lord may come.
In Mt. 24.44-51 we read the words of the Lord, "For this reason, you be ready too; for the Son of Man is coming at an hour when you do not think he will. Who then is the faithful and sensible slave whom his master put in charge of his household to give them their proper food at the proper time? Blessed is that slave whom his master finds so doing when he comes. Truly I say to you, that he will put him in charge of all his possessions. But if that slave says in his heart, 'My master is not coming for a long time,' and shall begin to beat his fellowslaves and eat and drink with drunkards; the master of that slave will come when he does not expect him and at an hour does not know, and shall cut him in pieces and assign him a place with the hypocrites; weeping shall be there and the gnashing of teeth."
Surely our expectation of our Lord's return should stir us to activity in fulfilling our commission.
The commission and the Lord's return are clearly linked together in Acts 1. They had a task - they would receive power when the Holy Spirit came upon them and they would be witnesses to Christ throughout the world. Then, as a cloud received him out of their sight, two men inwhite stood by and said to them, "Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking into the sky? This Jesus, who has been taken up from you into heaven, will come in just the same way as you have watched him go into heaven". They had a commission for which they were to receive power but they did not have unlimited time in which to fulfil it - the return of their Lord would always be at hand. For the sake of the world to whom the good news must be taken and for their own sake to whom this sacred charge had been committed, they must at all times be about their Lord's business.
Each of us who receives Jesus Christ into our life and knows his saving power knows something everyone else needs to know. We have a Gospel to proclaim. We are not all called to be preachers, nor to be teachers in the Church School. We are, however, called each one of us to share in the spreading of this Gospel, this good news. As surely as we have come to know it ourselves, we have a responsibility to pass it on to others.
It is small wonder that we seem to make little impact on the world in Christ's name when we leave the task for a select few in a select place. If we could count the number of people that the members of this congregation meet and converse with regularly, it could well run into thousands. How does your life and mine count for Christ and his gospel?
Jesus said to Peter and later to the rest of the disciples, "Whatever you shall bind on earth shall have been bound in heaven; and whatever you loose on earth shall have been loosed in heaven" (Mt. 18.18). And again, after his resurrection, their Lord had said, "If you forgive the sins of any, their sins have been forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they have been retained" (Jn 20.23).
Some have taken these words and used them to elevate Christians who have received ordination over other Christians as if they have some special power to forgive people's sins. Only God can forgive. The good news we bear is the good news of God's forgiveness, but it is something we receive for our lives by believing in Christ. If we who know the good news withhold it from others, we are leaving them bound for eternity, we are shutting them out from the forgiveness of God - and their blood will be on our heads. If we make the message known and they refuse it, then of course, they themselves are responsible - only let us be fully assured before God that none are refusing it because we are so imperfectly setting it out in our lives!
What a charge has been committed to us! "How shall they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how shall they believe in him whom they have not heard? And how shall they hear without a preacher? So faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of Christ" (Rom. 10.14, 17). Little wonder that Paul felt himself under obligation to all people (Rom. 1.14). Little wonder he preached with a sense of compulsion "Woe is me if I do not preach the gospel" (1 Cor. 9.16b).
We have a gospel to proclaim and our Lord is coming - let us get down to the business, each one of us - not only when we gather together but day by day of our lives. Let us live out the gospel, so that others can see the power of Christ in our lives. As we give ourselves to Bible study and prayer, let us each begin to work out the implications of the gospel in our personal, social, home, financial, business, leisure activities. Let us gladly and unhesitatingly use the opportunities that come to speak to others in the name of Christ. We have a gospel to proclaim and our Lord is coming.
However, it is important that we do not think that we are to proclaim this gospel so as to enhance our reputation before God. We are sharing it because of God's love in our hearts and because, knowing its importance for ourselves we also know its importance for others.
We sometimes think that, provided someone is telling the message somewhere, that is all that matters. We say, "We support the work of Billy Graharn, and he is our representative" or "We support the work of this church, and Peter Blackburn is our representative". Would to God we gave more of this needed support, but that does not relieve us of our responsibility to the world, which needs Christ. What chance has Billy Graham or Peter Blackburn if Christianity as lived out by the average Christian is "as dead as a coffin nail" (to quote Charles Dickens)? We cannot get, the message of Christ through to this world unless Christians begin to radiate Christ wherever they go.
It is not for us to know the times and seasons. We do not know when our Lord may return, but we have a world that needs Christ. We do not know when our Lord may return, but we do know that "Now is the acceptable time... now is the day of salvation" (2 Cor. 6.2b).
There is an urgency about the message. We mistake our charge if we consider it sufficient for people to think the message over and decide about it sometime. The Word nowhere says "anytime will do for you to receive God's salvation". Everyone in this world needs Christ. The Lord is at hand - "behold, now is the acceptable time, behold, now is the day of salvation!"
So then, the Second Coming brings a challenge to us. We are not to wait in idleness and wonder what the future may bring. The Lord is at hand. Let us now receive Christ for the first time or renew our trust in him. Let us read the Scriptures and pray that the Gospel may be translated into our everyday lives. Let us seek that others may come to know about Christ and to welcome him as their own Saviour and Lord.
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